WIL in the time of Covid-19

The pandemic forced Maddison Wrench to work from home during an external placement. Photo supplied.
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Swinburne student Maddison Wrench spent three months of a work placement at Dandenong Market in full lockdown, working from home. It posed some interesting – and ultimately highly creative – challenges.

If you had asked me what worried me about Work Integrated Learning (WIL) 12 months ago, a global pandemic wouldn’t have even crossed my mind.

Now, 11 months into my WIL placement, I have spent the past 12 weeks working from my desk between mum’s TV and the fridge. It’s less than glamorous.

While I expected to be challenged creatively working in PR for Dandenong Market, during this COVID-19 period I have been in “de-construction” mode, cancelling major events that would usually attract 35,000+ people and school holiday experiences, and putting a hold on all future events indefinitely.

Not the kind of PR challenge I anticipated.

My PR team realised that, to make a contribution, we had to quickly discover how to do things differently. With no events to attract customers because of social distancing, there was a period we all feared we’d run out of tasks. And that may have cost us our jobs.

So, we stepped into creative mode, developing campaigns including Be Kind, Thank You Thursday, Welcome Back Wednesday and Stay Safe, Stay Apart and establishing a Call & Collect initiative that supported both customers and traders.

As a result, we had 30 positive stories in the media over the two months including major features on Nine News Melbourne and Channel 10 News. This is in addition to the 143 stories I secured over the seven months before lockdown.

How? We were just more creative in how we told our stories – and we used different technology. Focusing on our local audience, I used the relationships I had forged with local journalists and bloggers to secure a weekly story and blog post on each medium, which kept us front of mind with our customers.

We turned our focus to our own media platforms. Taking advantage of more people on digital devices and using new designs and creating small videos to deliver our messaging, I was able to exponentially increase reach and engagement across the market’s social media channels.

Our Board Report for March showed we recorded a 91.8 per cent increase in engagement on Facebook and 32.6 per cent increase on Instagram, pushing us way above our competitors. This increase of engagement has in turn improved our social licence, which has been extremely beneficial during these times.

We’ve thrived, developing successful campaigns that introduce new elements to the market and also promoting all health restrictions. Our followers, our customers, our traders, our board of directors – and the media – have loved it. It’s been an incredible team effort that we have been able to achieve from our homes.

There was always a looming, uneasy feeling that my placement would come to an end sooner than expected and I would be stripped of a job from which I still had so much to learn. By this stage, though, I can confidently say I had a lot to offer.

With more than 50 per cent of my fellow WIL students being “let go” from their jobs, this wasn’t an irrational fear.

I’m proud that when facing the unknown I kept working to the potential I knew I could achieve – and have continued to innovate. And it was recognised and acknowledged daily.

Despite the dislocation, I didn’t stumble in the face of massive change but, instead, have accomplished so much in such a short space of time. I have learned to ask for help when I needed it – and offered my digital and design skills to others.

The flexibility of my role has also astounded me. I have had opportunities as a result of Covid-19 that I might never have faced in my professional career.

Luckily, the technologically advanced world we live in has allowed me to work as effectively from home as I would from my desk. I just miss my team – and the clatter and vibrancy of thousands of people energetically making their living and having fun around me at our dynamic Dandenong Market.

  • Maddie Wrench is a third year Media & Communications student studying Public Relations at Swinburne University. She has also interned at the ABC’s 7.30 program.